James Lawton: Kelly's perfect run into the company of legends

In the Olympic stadiums of Moscow and Los Angeles you thought you had seen the last word in the lapsed genius of British middle-distance running.

In the Olympic stadiums of Moscow and Los Angeles you thought you had seen the last word in the lapsed genius of British middle-distance running.

You saw Steve Ovett and Seb Coe fighting their greatest battles in Moscow in '80 and sharing the spoils and then, in a hot and muggy Los Angeles there was Coe putting his mark on history, winning his second gold for 1500 metres and, in the moment of victory, turning to mock his critics in the stands.

Nothing could supplant the authority and the brilliance of that run. Jim Murray, an ageing maestro of American sports writing, said it was like taking some elixir of youth. He said that Coe was the young, haunting Lord Byron of the track.

So how could you beat that? Only by doing what Kelly Holmes did here on Saturday night. Only by running into the historic company of just four other athletes: Albert Hill of Great Britain in Antwerp in 1920, Peter Snell in Tokyo in 1964, the Russian Tatyana Kazankina in Montreal in 1976 and her compatriot Svetlana Masterkova in Atlanta eight years ago.

Only by producing the astonishing powers of recovery to win the 800m and the classic 1500m within the space of five days.

Hill's chances of doing it were considered utterly remote, almost as far-fetched as Holmes' when she stunned her team-mates by saying, at the age of 34, she would take on the challenge just a few days before the entry list for last Monday's shorter race was closed.

Hill was considered far too ancient to have a serious chance of winning either of the races at the age of 31, which of course was three years less than the age Holmes carried into the supreme moments of her long and often haunted athletic career this last week. But the First World War veteran spreadeagled the field in both races. The Russians Kazankina and Masterkova were dominant mistresses of the track. The Kiwi Snell was considered arguably the greatest middle-distance talent of all time.

So how did the perennial nearly girl smash her way into such company? How did she turn the past scrapings of bronze and silver into one of the most glittering triumphs in the history of the track?

Yesterday she gave us a great hotchpotch of explanation. There was the kissing of dog-tags. A clutter of other superstitions. A breathless phone call to a former coach to report dazzling lap times in training in Cyprus. The one she didn't offer was a breath-taking commitment, against heavy odds, to redeem a career wrecked by injury and the pain of going so close, but finishing so far, from the ultimate glory.

Holmes, of all athletes after her long and frustrating years in the sport, knows that no such eruption of extraordinary performances can be traced across a clear-blue and suspicion-free sky.

Once, in the pique of defeat, she was immersed in controversy when she declared - and then later retracted the implications - that at least her performance, win or lose, was "clean". But that for everyone in track and field is the price of competing in waters that have long been muddied. Holmes also knows that all you can do is perform to your outer limits - and let the praise and the acceptance settle where they may.

Here in the Olympic stadium her undying legacy was proclaimed in a performance of authority and timing that was simply stunning. No one, not Snell nor Hill, nor Masterkova nor Kazankina took hold of a race any more masterfully than Holmes did on Saturday night.

First she toyed with the field, then she destroyed it. She ran wide and at the rear. Whatever the Russians, Tatyana Tomashova, Natalya Yevdokimova and Olga Yegorova did, Holmes suggested she had an answer. It was as though they were attached by string to the mistress of the marionettes, the runner who for so long had operated under the shadow of injury and sometimes athletic despair. And then, when we came to the decisive phase of the last final straight, there was only one runner on the track, eating up the ground, dismissing the idea of a challenge.

Tomashova and the Romanian Maria Cioncan offered what passed for resistance but it was swept away easily enough.

When Holmes won her first gold early in the week her reaction was one of the abiding images of the Games: a look of surprise and delight that could only been matched by a five-year-old operating from a jumble of wrappings beneath a Christmas tree.

Now, the expression showed a subtle change: now it was the face of a winner - one of the greatest in the history of the track. Suddenly, Seb Coe and Los Angeles seemed a very long time ago.

News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor